How Corries Rita went from exotic dancer to longest running female soap character in the world

How Corries Rita went from exotic dancer to longest running female soap character in the world


She first appeared in Coronation Street as an exotic dancer called Rita Littlewood in 1964, but actress Barbara Knox made such an impression that bosses never forgot her. In 1972, Barbara was asked back and she begged Ken Dodd to release her early from his show. He kindly did and today Barbara is the longest- serving female TV soap actor in the world.

To celebrate Barbara’s 90th birthday, ITV1 is paying tribute to its flame-haired star by telling her tale with tributes from her friends and colleagues. Sue Nicholls, who plays Audrey Roberts in Corrie , says, “I love working with her, she’s such a super actress and I love her as a person.”

More praise comes from William Roache, who has portrayed Ken Barlow on Coronation Street since it started in December 1960.

“There’s a lot to say about Barbara,” he says. “She’s one of the strong matriarchal characters of a matriarchal show.”

“She’s got this gravitas,” adds Jimmi Harkishin, who has starred as Dev Alahan since 1999. “You know when Barbara is in the scene.”

During her time on Corrie , Rita has been married three times, but her defining relationships have been with her Kabin colleagues Mavis Riley (Thelma Barlow) and Norris Cole (Malcolm Hebden).

“We saw each other through thick and thin,” smiles Thelma, and when Thelma handed in her notice on the soap, Barbara was devastated. “Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful woman,” says Barbara of her friend. “Great to act with. I cried when she left.”

Of Barbara, Malcolm adds simply, “She is an icon.” Oldham-born Barbara was inspired to act after becoming entranced by the cinema aged just six when she started watching musicals with Fred Astaire and Betty Grable. “That’s what did me,” Barbara tells Bradley Walsh on the show. “It took you out of everything you were living through.”

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